While I’d still prefer to watch a Bears game on a Sunday afternoon rather than channel surf — or Internet watch — the bye week allowed us to keep an eye on some of the upcoming opponents on the Bears’ schedule and perhaps get a better sense of what’s in store for them.
Upon further review, the prognosis doesn’t look so good.
For starters, the Bears’ next four opponents, and six of their next seven foes, were all victorious this week. Four of those six games were won in convincing or impressive fashion.
Teams are taught to never look past the next opponent, so, while the Bengals, Cardinals, 49ers, Eagles, and Vikings all present formidable challenges, let’s focus instead on the Falcons, who pounded the 49ers, 45-10, and whom the Bears face this Sunday night.
Aside from the Steelers — who were without Troy Polamalu and haven’t looked like themselves lately — the Bears have yet to face a top team through four games this year. I don’t want to diminish the Packers — they did beat the Bears, after all — but they have a ways to go, particularly with that offensive line. And the Seahawks and Lions are both below average football teams.
While the Bears and their fans have every reason to feel good after a 3-1 start, now we’ll truly get to see where the Bears rank among the league’s best beginning with a showdown against the Falcons this week and continuing through Lovie Smith’s proverbial second and third quarters of this season.
What makes the Falcons such an imposing foe is that they’re a balanced football team. You can’t stack the box to stop Michael Turner and the run game because Matt Ryan will beat you with his arm. And you can’t sit back to defend the pass because Turner will “burn” you — as his nickname might imply.
My biggest concern, of course, remains with the Bears’ defense and their inability to get off the field. They’ve had very slow starts in all four games this year and if they can’t get off the field, the Falcons will exploit their tired legs and prevent any kind of fourth quarter comeback that Jay Cutler has become so adept at.
If Detroit rookie Matthew Stafford and Seattle backup Seneca Wallace can pick apart the Bears secondary, just imagine what Atlanta’s emerging star — I feel dirty saying that, because I think the guy is a little overrated — can do to the Bears’ defensive backfield. Visions of Roddy White — who had 8 catches for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns against the 49ers this week — shredding the defense will haunt me next Sunday. All Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez catching passes across the middle against whomever the Bears line up at middle linebacker is a scary thought.
Of course, the best way to combat a good passing attack is to put pressure on the quarterback, something the Bears have been much improved at this year. However, although the Bears have 14 sacks this year — tied for 4th most in the league — the defense has also fought bouts of a stagnant pass rush and have allowed opposing quarterbacks too much time to throw. And with an inexperienced secondary still learning to play together, that could cause problems for them Sunday night against an Atlanta team with heightened confidence at this juncture.
We know the Bears will have revenge in mind, even if no player or coach will publicly admit it. Last season’s 22-20 loss in Atlanta, a game in which the Bears were leading with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, no doubt is sticking with many of the players that were on the team at the time. Surely, a measure of payback and a big victory over a 3-1 conference opponent will give them a confidence boost for the second quarter of their season.
We can only hope that whatever motivational tactic Lovie used at halftime of the Lions game that helped stir his team to a second-half blowout will be used during pregame Sunday night. Because the Falcons are one team that a comeback will be difficult to come by. They could bury the Bears if they get off to a slow start, a hole out of which not even Cutler could help them climb.